Offering group exercise may be the key to member retention and loyalty at your health club Photo by Thinkstock

Offering group exercise may be the key to member retention and loyalty at your health club. (Photo by Thinkstock.)

Health Clubs Need a Group Exercise Business Mentality

Group exercise is one of the best ways to retain clients at a health club.

It should come as no secret to anyone who has been in the exercise business for at least five years that group activity is by far one of the best vehicles for behavioral change success that a fitness facility can offer. Add to that the overwhelming evidence that group participants (both large—as in group exercise classesand small—as in small group training) retain at a rate as much as 20 percent higher than do people who only come in and work out on equipment.

When I look at more than eight years of quarterly and annual Fitness Business Council/Wellness Business Council surveys, those facilities that support and encourage group participation from the get-go of membership are usually the same facilities that enjoy 60 to 70 percent member retention. Yet, overall, our industry still insists on running new members through one or two individual equipment orientation sessions with a trainer as the standard for orientation.

The individual on-boarding of members results in only about 5 percent of members buying personal training annually. It's kind of a "law of least returns" business practice. Ironically, the re-buy rate (people who initially sign up for personal training sessions and then buy another package) falls into the 50 percent range.

Facilities that encourage member participation in group classes and sessions benefit in several ways:

  • Customers get to know each other—the "social necessity" aspect of membership.
  • Members participate together and schedule to meet each other for classes or sessions.
  • Much higher member-referral rate from these participants.
  • Lowered production costs for the business (payroll and hard costs being shared by many people rather than just one).
  • Substantially decreased trainer or instructor burnout.
  •  A new career path for instructors who also become small group trainers.

I've tracked many clients who bought into a group as strategy several years ago. In more than 75 percent of circumstances, those clients:

  • Have seen group participation among members skyrocket from about 15 percent of members to more than 35 percent of members.
  • Have lessened their payroll costs by anywhere from 3 percent to as much as 8 percent. (Most of these savings go to the bottom line.)
  • Have enjoyed as much as two-thirds of new memberships coming from satisfied customer referrals.
  • Have kept their pre-tax profits at a solid 10 percent or higher.

Most modern business gurus are chanting one mantra above all others: "It's not the product; it's the customer experience that is king." A group business mentality will take you a long way toward stronger customer experiences and member loyalty.

Do you think it might be time for you to "get a group?" Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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